Family Matriarch Celebrates 98th Birthday

by Bob Sparrow

Phyllis with kids Dale, Linda, Starlet

Phyllis (McMillan) Barnes was born on June 11, 1926.  She celebrated her 98th birthday in Rochester, Minnesota with her three children and their extended families.  The event took place at daughter and son-in-law Starlet and Donnie Brummer’s home.  A quick review of Phyllis’ achievement-driven progeny is always interesting.  The party included two of Starlet’s daughters, Denise, who is an Advance Placement Calculus and Trigonometry teacher, and Debbie, who is a Doctor of Pharmacy in Minneapolis, her other daughter, not in attendance, Melissa, is an architect in Houston.  Denise & Gene (who works in computer information systems) Cobb’s kids are Garrett, who is in a doctorate program in Huntsville, AL for aeronautical engineering; his girlfriend, Sydney, has a degree in Industrial Engineering.  Daughter, Lindsay works in Washington DC for the United Nations Foundation, and son, Will, is at the University of Wisconsin in Electrical Engineering.  Debbie and Paul (who has a degree in Architecture and Environmental Design) Klein’s kids are Anna, who graduated from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut with a Biology and Chemistry degree and was captain of the ice hockey team, and Ella, who is completing her degree in Biology and Chemistry at St. Benedict.  Son, Matt, who was not in attendance works in finance for Edward Jones in Denver.  Donnie’s son, Dan Brummer’s family was also in attendance, Dan also works in finance.  How did I respond to all these ‘brainiacs’ around me when asked about my education?  I whipped on my glasses (they make me look smarter), looked them straight in the eye, and said, “I am a college grad-u-ate – I have a degree in P.E.”, hoping that they would think those were initials for Physics & Engineering.  Then I remembered how smart they were and also remembered an old Abe Lincoln quote,  “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”.

OK, let’s get back to Phyllis, who started all this!  Before I tell you about my ‘interview’ with her, you need to know this about her: Most people who spend any time with her say, “I hope I’m that sharp when I’m her age”.  I’m going to amend that by saying “I wish I was that sharp NOW!”

I sat down with my delightful mother-in-law, who is surely one of the sweetest people you would ever meet, while in Rochester to have her talk about her long life:

Sydney, The Cobbs: Gene, Will, Garrett, Denise

The Brummers: Andrew, Jacob, Dan, Nicole, Lauren and Donnie

She was born in a farmhouse, not a hospital, in Lanora, MN, weighing 12 pounds – quite large for someone who now weighs less than 100 pounds!  Her mom and dad owned a farm that had pigs, chickens and cattle.  Their house had no electricity, as light was provided by kerosene lamps. They also had no refrigerator and not even an ice box, they cooled their food by putting it in a jar and putting the jar in cool water.

She started school at four years old; the school was called the ‘Cigar Box’ and had 12 seats, although there were only five students.  She graduated from nearby Canton High School and after graduation went to ‘Teacher Training School’ and became a teacher after one year.  She met and married Warren Barnes in 1945 when she was 19.  Their house had no inside toilets, that wouldn’t come until 1954.

After Warren filled his military obligation and got out of the service in 1946, they moved from northern California, where he was stationed, to Minnesota and bought her parents’ dairy farm which they worked for the next 25 years, milking 20 jersey cows twice every day, 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening – weekend, holiday . . . everyday!  They were involved in the church and many local community activities with their three kids, Starlet, Dale and Linda.

At five years old, Linda, sang at the county fair and a few years later, was asked to be a square dance caller at the Texas National Square Dance Convention.  Ultimately, her older siblings joined her to form the Barnes Trio, who sang all over Minnesota and won many singing contests.

After selling the farm Warren & Phyllis moved to Minneapolis and Phyllis worked 16 years for Controlled Data putting circuit boards together and Warren worked 20 years for International Paper.  They then retired and spent winters in Arizona for the next 24 years.

The Kleins: Anna, Paul, Debbie

Phyllis now resides in Homestead ‘Assisted Living’ Facility in Rochester, where she plays cards (500 and cribbage) every day, she also goes to exercise class, sometimes leads it!  Additionally, she goes to ‘coffee & chat’ and plays bingo twice a week, and enjoys the outside entertainment that comes in twice a month.

I asked this incredible lady what the secret was to her long life.  She said, “Great family, great friends and a positive attitude!”

Favorite quote: I don’t know if this is her favorite quote, but it’s mine.  When she was jokingly asked which son-in-law she liked better, Donnie or me, she replied: “I don’t like one any better than the other!”